9/11 Comedy’s Joseph Fiennes Reacts To Unexpected Casting

Using the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as a backdrop might not be the first thing to come to mind when creating a road comedy, but this isn’t your average buddy movie. In fact, even the buddies involved in Sky Arts’ made-for-TV film, Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon. Imagine Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Michael Jackson packing up for an unexpected road trip home after everything goes haywire following the attack on the World Trade Center on 9 11.

Your mind might be racing with casting possibilities, right?

Who would play those legends? According to Entertainment Weekly, the cast is impressive. Broadway and film veteran Stockard Channing is set to shine as Elizabeth Taylor, Emmy Award-winning Scottish actor Brian Cox will sit in as Marlon Brando, and English actor Joseph Fiennes will play Michael Jackson.

Joseph Fiennes? Ralph’s brother? The thin, white duke-ish sort best known for Shakespeare In Love and Monsignor Howard on American Horror Story? Joseph Alberic Iscariot Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes plays…Michael Jackson?

In an exclusive interview with Entertainment Tonight, the star of the 9/11 tale seemed as surprised as anyone else about the casting.

“I’m a white, middle-class guy from London. I’m as shocked as you may be.”

When asked about the backlash he might face as a white actor playing one of the most successful African-American entertainers of all time, Fiennes admitted that he’d given reaction to the film some thought, but decided to do it once he saw the spirit and intention of the 9/11-themed project.

“It’s kind of off the wall, but the writing is a delight, and the kind of interaction between the three of them is funny, and also full of pathos. It’s people who are so iconic, but also can be detached. You know, you can get detached from society. So it’s examining that kind of wonderful and mad detachment.

“He definitely had an issue — a pigmentation issue — and that’s something I do believe. He was probably closer to my color than his original color.

“It’s a light comedy look. It’s not in any way malicious. It’s actually endearing.”

Even if the showrunners’ intentions are golden, some industry observers are not convinced the makers of the British television short went in the right direction. The timing of the announcement, which happened during talk of calls for boycotts of the Academy Awards in protest of the lack of recognition of the diversity of artists in film and other areas of the entertainment industry, is indicative of the poor judgment involved in the making of this project.

Controversy aside, the 22-minute comedy is actually part of a series of reenactments of little known events from pop culture. A spokesperson for Sky Arts defended the series, stating they give the individual directors freedom to present the stories as they wish. The story is based on a possibly true, possibly just a case of “Wouldn’t it be neat if…?” story first published in Vanity Fair in 2011. In what reads like a show business shaggy dog story that has everything thrown in including the kitchen sink and Corey Feldman, Jackson, Brando, and Taylor were frantic to get out of New York following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. As every manner of transit shut down, the three supposedly acted out their own production of trains, planes, and automobiles by planning to drive home.

While this tale might be wagging a bit too far into believability territory for some, and the casting may stretch it too far not to snap into offensive for others, it should be noted that wild, inventive casting of show business legends is nothing new. Todd Haynes’ 2007 biopic of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There, employed six actors to play the folk hero who went electric. Along with Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, and Ben Whishaw, vignettes feature Cate Blanchett and a Marcus Carl Franklin, an African-American actor who was eleven at the time, as Bob Dylan.

The 9/11 episode of the still un-named series is set to air later this year on the U. K. premium channel Sky.

[Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images]